Have you ever run a search on a genealogy website and been surprised at some of the names that got into your search results?
Ancestry.com, WeRelate.org and BehindtheNames.com have started a project to compile a database of surname and given name variants that should be searched along with whatever name you type into a genealogy database.
Traditionally, the Soundex system and/or a site’s own algorithms determine what matches you see, but these still can return matches that don’t make sense and miss good matches.
The project will improve searching on WeRelate.com, but any genealogy data site will be able to use the Variant Names Project database to improve its searching.
You can help build the database by adding alternate spellings for the surnames in your family tree. First, you’ll need to create a free WeRelate account by clicking create account at the top of the page.
On the Variant Names project home, select given name or surname, enter the name and hit Go.
You’ll see a list of potential alternate spellings with checkboxes. The checked names are included in online searches for the name you entered. (In addition, rare names that share a Soundex code are also included.) Unchecked names aren’t included.
Review the list and think about variations you’ve found in your research. You’ll uncheck variants of the name that shouldn’t be included in searches, check names that should be included, and add other names in the text box at the bottom of the screen.
The starting-point lists came from an algorithm Ancestry.com and WeRelate came up with to find similar names for the 200,000 most-frequent surnames and 70,000 most-frequent given names in Ancestry.com’s databases. Names also were added from BehindtheName.com, a site about the etymology of given names, as well as name dictionaries.